Deciding about the New Delta: Forward-looking decisions about critical water infrastructure in the Netherlands

This research project will investigate what conditions and mechanisms enable public sector organizations to take forward-looking investment decisions. The project conceptualizes forward-looking decisions as decisions that anticipate future developments by employing a long time horizon, proposing flexible or robust solutions and using either scenarios or future visions to justify decisions. To be able to flexibly respond to change and embed forward-looking decisions it can be needed to change established institutions. For example, large infrastructural investments depend on the involvement of political decision-makers to approve budgets. But often politicians are not very interested in decisions about end-of-lifetime infrastructure because they view these decisions as non-urgent technical problems and are hindered by short electoral cycles.

The long-term aspects of deciding about water infrastructure raises new research problems such as: How to connect short-term actions and investments to long-term challenges in a short-term election cycle? How to facilitate flexibility and anticipation in infrastructure decisions? What is the effect of scenario studies or adaptation pathways on decision-making? Which configurations of conditions enable forward-looking decisions?  

This research aims to understand and contribute to enabling forward-looking decisions about water infrastructure. The overall research question is:

Under which conditions and how do public sector organizations take forward-looking decisions about end-of-lifetime water infrastructure?